Frenchmen, Belgians, Senegalese Tirailleurs, Zouaves, and Turkos captured near to Ypres
The picture displays a group of prisoners of war (possibly recently captured) close to Ypres, one of the most embattled cities on the Western Front. The soldiers seem to belong to different branches of the service and they seem to be grouped along ethnic lines. Some are eating but most of them just stare into the camera. Their facial expressions reveal exhaustion and wartime deprivation. This is a rare scene showing a large group of prisoners with no guard present.
Colonial units had been a part of the French ground forces (l’Armée d’Afrique) since the mid-19th century. They fought mainly in North Africa and Indochina but, during World War One, hundreds of thousands of soldiers from colonised countries supported the Triple Entente in Europe. Some of the most important units were the Senegalese Tirailleurs, the Turkos and the Zouaves.
The Senegalese Tirailleurs were an infantry corps, recruited in the sub-Saharan regions under French influence. They were first deployed to Europe during the Franco-German War in 1870. During World War One, they fought on the Western Front and in the Dardanelles in unprecedented numbers. Some researchers estimate that, notwithstanding colonial troops from other parts of the French colonies, the Senegalese Tirailleurs alone provided about 200,000 soldiers. The picture probably shows soldiers who were fighting in the Battle of Flanders in late 1914, a battle in which losses among the Tirailleurs were particularly heavy. Unlike the Zouaves, the Senegalese Tirailleurs never consisted of French settlers. For the first time in the Armée d’Afrique, the local nobility could move up the ladder to the ranks of non-commissioned officers. During World War One, their battalions were brought together with battalions of (usually white) colonial infantry.
'Turkos' was the nickname for the North African equivalent of the Senegalese Tirailleurs. Their official name was Tirailleurs algériens and Tirailleurs tunisiens, respectively. In contrast to their Senegalese counterparts, the level of command within the Turkos consisted mainly of French officers and corporals.